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Afghanistan: 'We're not giving up the fight'

Nadia Fasel
January 21, 2023

In late January 2022, 25-year-old Tamana Zaryab Paryani was arrested and imprisoned in Kabul. She was brutally tortured, abused, and interrogated for three weeks. Here, she tells DW her story.

Headshot of Tamana Zaryab Paryani. She is wearing a dark-brown shirt and jacket and her shoulder-length hair is uncovered.
Human rights activist Tamana Zaryab Paryani was arrested and imprisoned by the Taliban in Kabul in January 2022Image: Privat

"I was gagged, and my feet and hands were bound. They held my legs while one of the prison guards beat the soles of my feet with a cable. Sometimes they put my feet in water and used cables to give me electric shocks until I lost consciousness. They also put a plastic bag over my head, and only took it off when I was on the point of suffocation," says Tamana Zaryab Paryani.

In January 2022, 25-year-old Tamana was arrested in Kabul in the middle of the night and thrown into jail. For three weeks she was brutally tortured, abused, and interrogated. Her three younger sisters were also imprisoned. Prior to this, Tamana had organized demonstrations against Taliban rule.

New laws for women

The Taliban accused Tamana of violating their new laws, in particular by publicly burning a burqa. After they seized power in August 2021, women were banned from actively participating in political or social life, and subjected to increasingly tight restrictions, including the obligation to wear the hijab. In May 2022, this requirement was expanded: All women must now wear a full-body covering such as the burqa. The Taliban put up posters in Kabul and other cities likening women without such coverings to animals.

Tamana Zaryab Paryani studied law, and before the Taliban takeover she worked as a newspaper journalist. Like many other women in Kabul, she refused to accept the Taliban's new restrictions. She was one of the organizers of protests attended by hundreds of women in early September 2021. The Taliban brutally suppressed them by beating, shooting, and arresting the participants.

A crowd of Afghan women march in the street, wearing loose headscarves and colorful clothing. They are holding up A4 papers with printed slogans in Farsi and English, calling for their freedom.
In September 2021, one month after the Taliban seized power, Afghan women marched in protest against new restrictionsImage: AP/picture alliance

Tamana herself was not arrested straight away. It was only months later that armed Taliban fighters forced their way into the apartment where she lived with her three sisters.

Tamana had the presence of mind to film the violent intrusion and post it on Facebook. That way, many people all over the world were able to follow her arrest — and her cry for help was probably what saved her and her sisters' lives. At the time, though, she had no way of knowing this.

Imprisoned and tortured

Her sisters Zarmina, Shafiqa and Kerishma were arrested along with Tamana, and were taken to the same prison, but the sisters had no contact with each other. They, too, were brutally tortured for 26 days.

"I'd never thought about death before," says 17-year-old Shafiqa. "I was at an age when such thoughts were alien to me. But after being imprisoned by the Taliban, I couldn't think about anything else."

Shafiqa, Zarmina, Tamana and Kerishma Paryani sit side by side on a sofa, looking serious.
Shafiqa, Zarmina, Tamana and Kerishma Paryani (left to right) came to Germany in October 2022Image: Tamana Zaryab Paryani

After considerable pressure from aid organizations and human rights activists, the Taliban released a large number of women demonstrators from prison on payment of bail. The women had to hand over documentation for their houses and possessions to the Taliban, and they were banned from taking part in protests, being politically active, or speaking to the media.

Tamana and her sisters were allowed to go home on February 13, 2022, after which they saw women's rights curtailed still further. In addition to being obliged to cover themselves from head to toe, women are no longer allowed to leave the house unless accompanied by a man, and girls and women have been excluded from attending school and university.

Help from abroad

News of Tamana's and her sisters' imprisonment sparked a big reaction on social media. Tamana's video of the arrest made many people aware of their fate — including, in Germany, the evacuation initiative Kabul Luftbrücke, the editorial team at the women's magazine EMMA, and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ).

In October 2022, Tamana and all 10 members of her family were able to emigrate to Germany via Pakistan. Since then, they have been busy settling into their new life here. A year has passed since they escaped the horrors of prison, but Tamana, Shafiqa, Kerishma and Zarmina have yet to recover from those terrible weeks. They suffer from anxiety and have terrible nightmares.

Blurred screenshot of Tamana Zaryab Paryani in close-up, looking alarmed.
Tamana Zaryab Paryani filmed her own arrestImage: Privat

"In the cell where we were imprisoned, I could hear the screams of other women and girls," says Shafiqa. "Those screams still ring in my ears to this day. I tremble and come up in goosebumps." One year on, her youngest sister still clearly remembers how she feared each breath could be her last.

Thousands are still trapped

The sisters know they are safe in Germany, and that they were very lucky, stressing the fact that many thousands of women and men are still "trapped in the Taliban's regime of terror in Afghanistan," frightened and suffering every day, fearing for their lives.

However, since their arrival in Germany, the sisters have also been targeted by Taliban sympathizers living here. They have made vitriolic accusations, and even threats.

Zarmina has tears in her eyes as she says she worries about the other women demonstrators in Afghanistan who have not been able to leave the country. She reports that many girls who were sexually abused in prison have committed suicide, because they feared for their reputation and that of their family.

Zarmina Paryani sits on a sofa, smiling at the camera.
Zarmina Paryani, a nurse, is thankful to have escaped the Taliban, but fears for the women of AfghanistanImage: Tamana Zaryab Paryani

"We fought for justice and equality. We made sacrifices," Tamana says of her time in Afghanistan. "But we suffer here, too, for our compatriots in our homeland."

Tamana fears that Taliban rule will be "even more brutal, even more cruel" in the future. Along with, and despite, the difficult situation of women in Iran and in Ukraine, she and her sisters appeal to the international community not to forget the women of Afghanistan.

This article has been translated from German.